As summer began, the judges of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California (E.D. Cal.) drafted a letter to the members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives providing notice of a current crisis as well as a warning that any exacerbation of this crisis will have serious and devastating consequences. The most significant consequence is that the eight million residents of the Eastern District face inaccessibility to the United States Federal Court system.
The Eastern District of California, encompassing 87,010 square miles, is larger than forty-one states in the country. Thirty-four of California’s fifty-eight counties are within this district. Its population of 8,094,480 persons is larger than the population of thirty-eight states. The corresponding responsibilities of the U.S. District Court are equally substantial. However, currently, there are only six District Judges in the Eastern District with two of them planning to retire in the next nineteen months. Each of the six District Judges has a caseload of roughly 900 cases, which is more than double than the nationwide average (425 cases) for District Judges.
The E.D.’s letter to Congress describes how the resources of the district have been deficient for thirty years. In the last ten years, the Administrative Office of the Courts has recommended that 4 to 6 new District Judges be added to handle the excessive caseload. One of the Senior District Judges has also given notice of retirement while of the other two Senior District Judges, one is over 80 years of age and the other only maintains a 50% caseload.
If these judges leave as anticipated, 2,000 cases will need to be redistributed to the remaining four District Judges, giving these judges a caseload of almost 1,400, which will be 1,000 more cases than the national average. With an expected increase of 12 Assistant U.S. Attorneys, an increase is expected in the number of indictments sought and filed, thus stressing a system even further that currently disposes of cases three times longer than the national average.
The letter calls for an immediate commitment to acting expediently to nominate and confirm any replacement judges as well as an emergency congressional bill to create five more judgeship positions. This crisis greatly affects all of the residents of the Eastern District and their access to a federal court system that efficiently disposes of their claims in a timely manner. Stay tuned as we’ll keep a watchful eye moving forward in 2018.
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